Saturday 3rd March 2012 – The wonder of arriving!

(Early morning mist, slowly lifting as we near the harbour)

Shouts of excitement bounced back and forth across the water as the Little Red Boat entered the harbour and rounded the first corner of the quay. Passengers milled about outside on the decks, craning their necks to search for their families and friends, already gathered on the quay for our long-awaited arrival.

(As we rounded the first corner of the quay…)

(Almost there!)

(During their absence, Koos had become Oupa (Grandfather) and Dennis had become a father)

Slowly, painstakingly slowly, we moved closer until we could clearly see the expectant faces of those waiting on the quay. The “Welcome home” posters held aloft lent a festive atmosphere, along with the live music that we could hear clearly by now. Then I spotted my husband and two children in the crowd. My heart skipped numerous beats and instantly, there was a lump the size of an apple in my throat. Tears of joy flowed freely down my face!  I had not expected them to fly down to Cape Town again. But boy, was I delighted to see them!

(And then I spotted them! What I did not realise at the time, was that the man with the folded arms was from the SANAE 27 overwintering team who had been with me on the ship in 1987)

(Hey, what's all this commotion about?)

We berthed and then the customs officials came aboard. The SANAE 50 team, who had been away from home for about 14 months, was permitted to leave the ship first, in order to participate in the official welcoming ceremony, led by Henry Valentine from the Department of Environmental Affairs. The rest of us waited patiently for our passports to be stamped and for permission to disembark. Then the frenetic activity started, everyone in a rush to be somewhere else, squashing past each other in the narrow corridors of the ship to get their luggage offloaded. In between, lots of final goodbye hugs… One passenger rushed ashore to propose to his girlfriend, who almost passed out from surprise  -  and I am sure, delight!

(The SANAE 50 team, in black T-shirts, lined up in front of the podium during their welcoming ceremony, conducted by Henry Valentine)

(Master of the ship, Captain Gavin Syndercombe, after 'parking' the ship in the harbour)

(The four of us, reunited and thoroughly delighted!)

There's more to follow, don't go away!

Friday 2nd March 2012

By this morning, all signs of the storms had disappeared. Around midday, I spotted another ship on the horizon. How weird to see that ugly thing and not an iceberg! It looked so out of place and messy. Oddly enough, I actually felt that my space had been invaded.

(A perfect day, with the most intensely blue ocean I have ever seen)

(Soaking up the perfect day on the monkey deck)

(And then a space invader arrived!)

Beautiful sunshine, barely a breeze, lots of people outside, some sunning themselves on the monkey deck, above the bridge. And then we were treated to a spectacular display by a pod of dolphins, darting inches below the surface and leaping out in unison. Wow! They then split up into smaller groups and porpoised all around the ship, to gasps of delight from the onlookers.

(The 'official' dolphin spotters on duty)

(The entertainers have arrived)

(Some passengers lazed about….)

(…some passengers hung about….)

(…and others monkeyed about on the monkey deck)

(…while the crew continued with their daily grind out on the decks…)

(…and way down below, in the galley.)

(Meanwhile, I was making plans with the ice I had imported from Antarctica as a gift to my family)

This afternoon I heard someone yell ‘Land ahoy!’ We could just make out the shape of Table Mountain! Word spread through the ship like wildfire and passengers rushed outside in their hordes to squint at the barely visible landmark. Home -  we are almost there! People started saying their farewells as we all know that tomorrow morning, when the ship berths, things will get hectic.

(Land ahoy!!!! Moving closer and closer to the mountain was an awesome feeling, filled with anticipation and excitement)

A few hours after spotting the mountain, we were able to get cell phone reception. What bliss, to be able to have a loooong conversation with one’s loved ones! All over the ship's decks people wandered about with one arm glued to their ear, yakking away.

(My first call home!)

(The heli-deck, or 'cell phone paradise')

(The sun has almost set, but who needs light for yakking? That was the longest call home ever!)

All the while, Table Mountain was getting bigger and bigger. The ship proceeded to her allocated spot near the harbor where we would lay anchor for the night, before heading into the harbor with a tug boat early tomorrow morning. What a spellbinding view of Table Mountain and the coastline! Darkness fell and the landscape was transformed into millions of tiny lights, like glowing embers in a fire.

(Our last and exquisite sunset on the SA Agulhas, just outside Cape Town harbour)

Back to the future….

…Civilization.

And we are almost touching it again. The thought was followed by an involuntary shudder.

After three months in some of the most pristine and isolated places on earth, I wondered what it would be like to once again, see the evidence of man’s ‘progress’ on this earth. The vehicles, roads, noise, smog, litter, colours, buildings, landscaped gardens, crowds. Not to mention the high speed at which we conduct our lives.

 

“Roll on, thou deep and dark blue Ocean –roll!

Ten thousand fleets sweep over thee in vain;

Man marks the earth with ruin  –  his control

Stops with the shore.” 

(Lord Byron, 1788 – 1824. Yes, yonks ago!)

 

Then I started wondering how it would feel to step off the Little Red Boat for the last time? I was jolted by the realization that once again, she had become part of me. By now, to a large extent, my internal rhythm was dictated by hers and it was all about to come to a sudden end. How does one say farewell to a ship? Memories of my first voyage on this ship in December 1986 mingled freely with memories of this voyage. It seemed that time was irrelevant. The only important thing was the connection between me and her. There was a sense of having completed the circle.

Feeling overwhelmed, I walked her decks, up the steps, around and down…soaking in the detail of her lines, sights and sounds for one last time…remembering how safe I had always felt aboard her, even in the worst of storms, such as the ones we braved in 1986. Indeed, I was not the only one who felt a deep sense of nostalgia and loss. I know of some big, strong men who have sailed on her dozens of times, who shed a few furtive tears at the end of this last Antarctic voyage of their trusted and well-loved ship, the SA Agulhas.

 

Wednesday 29th February 2012

All I want to say today has been said by someone else already:

“Thou glorious mirror,

Where the Almighty’s form

Glasses itself in tempests.

Dark-heaving – boundless, endless, and sublime, the image of eternity, the throne

Of the Invisible.

 

And I have loved thee, Ocean! And my joy

Of youthful sports was on thy breast to be

Borne, like thy bubbles, onward: from a boy

I wantoned with thy breakers.”

(Lord Byron)

Tuesday 28th February 2012

The ship is bucking wildly. Much of our stuff is still lying on the floor in the cabin (I am sharing with two others) and will just have to remain there until after the storm.  At dinner tonight, my chair slid to the right and so did I, until I landed on the lap of the diner next to me. It is quite a thrill to see the huge waves hit the dining room portholes as well as the portholes on the level above.  

(Lurching into the swell, water, water, everywhere!)

I have just been to the poop deck, at the back of the ship, one level below the heli-deck.  When the ship dips down, one looks straight into a 10-metre (30 feet) wall of almost black water. It is both terrifying and exciting at the same time. We shrieked when it looked as if the water was going to crash over the deck, smashing us in the process…Luckily, it didn’t! According to an experienced sailor, the waves will indeed crash over the deck before the night is over. Suddenly it started to hail, but due to the strong wind, it came at us horizontally!

(A great big wall of black water rises ominously above the poop deck)

We have been forced a little off course to cope with the swell and to make life on the ship a bit more comfortable. That means the ‘corkscrewing’ motion is lessened, much, to my relief!

(An albatross, as grand as ever, not perturbed by the storm)

Monday 27th February 2012

Early this morning, the intensity of the storm increased severly. That was apparent to us all. Most of our stuff fell off the shelves and I almost fell out of bed. The chairs have been lying upside for two days already, and there really is no point in trying to keep them upright. Our speed has been reduced to about 4 knots, severely slowing down our progress. Hopefully, the storm will be over by tomorrow, but I hear that there is another on the way that we might just hit or just miss…

(Wild, but pretty exciting! The Little Red Boat is about 110m (330 feet) long  – and is being tossed about by the ocean as if she were a cork in a bathtub)

It is really difficult to do anything when the ship is bucking around like this. Even staying awake is a challenge. I spoke to the doctor and asked why so many of us were feeling so tired. The response was that it is hard work for the brain to maintain the body's balance and its proper, upright position when everything around it is moving unpredictably, especially when one is indoors and unable to see the ocean and the horizon and thereby, anticipate the movement. Makes sense to me. Many passengers spend much of the day in their bunks, emerging only at mealtimes.

(I got soaked taking this photo as the water was splashing onto the deck with great force)

I got up early, had breakfast and was fully intending to be constructive. I sat down and started reading then woke up an hour later, still sitting but just emerging from a gentle coma. I tried reading again. Then woke up another hour later, still sitting up…

Sadly, the Northwesterly wind has transformed into a Southwesterly, which means we get hit by the swell from the side. Thus, instead of a rhythmic up-and-down swaying motion, the ship perfoms an uncomfortable corkscrew motion. My ‘favourite’. Ha, ha! But all that was forgotten for a while when the heavens provided a dramatic and astonishingly beautiful sunset…

(Charcoal clouds barely allow the sunlight to shine through onto the wild ocean)

The weather is not improving and we already lost time yesterday from having to slow down to about 4 knots. The front that was predicted to have passed over us still has not finished passing by. I am not sure that I still have patience for this. I feel so much closer to home and yet still so far away. It certainly looks like this darn storm is following us around!  At midnight tonight, we will set our clocks forward by one hour.

“Time writes no wrinkle on thine azure brow: Such as creation’s dawn beheld, thou rollest now.”  (Lord Byron)

 

 

 

Sunday 26th February 2012

The Little Red Boat has been pitching wildly. The table is swaying left and right and me and my laptop are hanging in there and following suit, with my chair doing a few precarious moves of its own, totally out of sync… The wind speed  has increased to 45 knots (about 75 km/hr) and the swell is around 6m to 8m (18 to 24 feet). Thank God I have my sea legs!

Every so often, I would hear a sound like thunder, which was perplexing. I then found out on the bridge that it was not thunder but the propeller lifting clear out of the water due to the intense pitching movements of the ship as she rides into the swell.  As a result we have had to slow down a lot, to prevent the propeller from jumping out of the water.

(Smack! A big splash as we hit the water! This photo was taken from up on the bridge)

(Things are getting pretty wild out there!)

 

Saturday 25th February 2012

The swell is increasing. Part of the sky is overcast and it is snowing, while in another part of the sky, the sun is shining! The swell is already about 4 to 6m (12 to 18 feet). 

The weatherman predicts that we will be rocking and rolling in the next days, as there are a few storm fronts moving through this area. He showed me that if we had been two days later in departing, we would have been caught in a huge storm with winds in excess of 50 knots. We will however, still get caught by the 40 knot winds once or twice.

(This large ice berg reminds me of lemon meringue pie!)

(Snowstorm at sea)

Friday 24th February 2012 – A whale of a day!

This morning, for hours on end, there were literally dozens of whales all around us  -  I did not know where to look first!  I confess that I am not very good at whale identification, but after poring over my guide book, I think it safe to say we saw humpbacks, sperm whales and Southern Right whales. There may have been a few minkies there too. Some of them were very close to the ship. In all the excitement of seeing whales popping up everywhere, I unfortunately did not manage to take very good photographs!

(Gotcha! I think these are Minkies)

Later on in the day, we passed a ‘black’ iceberg.  In fact, about half of it was a blueish- black colour and half was white . I think that as the submerged part eroded away in the water, it became top-heavy and must have tipped over, thus exposing the blue-black portion from below. It was the first time I had seen something like that. For what it was worth, I did ask the officer of the watch if we could sail a bit closer to take a better look at it…. My request did not even vaguely pique his interest. In fact, he looked at me as though I were mad. Pity.  It was worth a try, though.

(Black iceberg with Sooty Albatross in foreground over a steel-grey ocean)

(A weathered ice berg with beautifully-rounded edges)

(Silver horizon, with the dark shadow of the storm cloud looming above)

(Black and blue sky and silver horizon glows in the distance)

(Oops, I meant to publish this photo earlier. It is of the last sunset in the ice. The beam of light is extraordinary!)

 

Thursday 23rd February 2012

And so it was that last night, the day that we were supposed to arrive back in Cape Town, we turned around to leave Antarctica. It should take us 8 to 10 days to sail to Cape Town.

We had waited 14 days for the weather to clear so that we could fly the other passengers and some cargo on board. Weeks of cruising east-west-east-west in the open sea, going nowhere, took their toll on my emotions. I was beginning to feel as though I was never going to see my family again! The weather was often so bad that it was thoroughly unpleasant to go outside. My body clock got all muddled up and I ended up being tired when I should be alert and awake when I should be sleepy .

Despite my intense longing to be reunited with my family, yesterday was a tough day for me. I had looked forward to an unhurried, gentle exit from here, slowly making our way out through the pack ice. But it did not happen that way. One moment we were in the ice and the next it was like someone had cut a line and we were gone, out. Open water. At least there were still some icebergs floating around.

(The very weathered remains of a blue iceberg)

The night was dark and cold. It was the first pitch darkness I had seen in a while, as during the last 14 nights that we spent waiting beyond the pack ice, the nights were merely twilight. The Little Red Boat swayed heartily as she built up to about 11 knots  -  the fastest we had cruised in a while.

We have just been given the official estimated time of arrival: 3 March at 08h00. However, we were warned that there are often storms in the lower latitudes that can blow us off course for a day or two…

Although it is not really storming outside, the ship is rolling about. The ocean currents move from West to East and we are going North-ish, aiming straight for Cape Town,  so the swell is hitting us from the side. Earlier, it snowed while the sun shone brightly above. Hey guys, ‘min dae’ (an Afrikaans expression for 'only a few days to go") !

(Interesting shape, I wonder how far this one has travelled with the currents?)

("If I were a swift cloud to fly with thee…" (PB Shelley))

(I just love the clouds and the silver highlights on the ice berg and ocean)